Jack is back. At defensive end.
Not that Jack Sawyer went away, mind you, but he did moonlight between positions last year for the Buckeyes, splitting his time at defensive end and the hybrid linebacker/defensive end/havoc “Jack” position.
The Jack was brought to Ohio State by defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who had successfully used it at all of his previous stops. It wasn’t as effective as everyone had hoped last year, though Sawyer did still tie for the team lead with 4.5 sacks.
Being a hybrid position, it has often been manned in the past by “tweeners.” In other words, players who weren’t quite linebackers or weren’t quite defensive ends. There is no need for tweening in Sawyer’s game, however, which is why the decision was made by Knowles and defensive line coach Larry Johnson to get him back to defensive end full time.
It was a move with which Sawyer was completely on board.
“I definitely feel very comfortable being back at defensive end,” Sawyer said this week. “I feel happy about it. When me, Coach Knowles, and Coach J talked about it after the season, and that’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what they thought I was best at too. So it was great, and it’s been good being back at defensive end.”
Sawyer spent the offseason trimming up a bit and cutting 6-7% of his body fat. He wanted to be in better shape and get back the explosiveness that made him one of the most-coveted defensive end prospects in the 2021 recruiting class.
Now coming into his junior season, Sawyer may finally be in a situation to have the kind of impact that he has always expected from himself. But the full picture must always stay in focus.
“You know, I think a lot of us haven’t really had the career we thought we’d have the first two seasons,” Sawyer said. “I think it’s hard to come in and on the defensive line, put up those huge numbers. I don’t think a lot of guys do that. So I just think collectively as a D-line, if we just put one foot in front of the other every day and try to get better every single day, before we know it at the end of the season, we’ll look up and see all those numbers. So we can’t really fixate on those things in the moment.”
Despite the expectations, Sawyer’s 7.5 sacks over the past two years are the most for any Buckeye in a two-year span since Chase Young’s 27 sacks between 2018 and 2019.
The expectations that come along with being an Ohio State defensive end who was once a five-star prospect are immense, and not made any smaller when those expectations will frequently invoke a Chase Young or Nick Bosa or Joey Bosa. No player should be expected to live up to those comparisons.
Fortunately, it’s not something Sawyer spends his time worrying about.
“We kind of save those things for you guys to decide,” he said. “We’re just focused on trying to be the best we can be, and every game playing as hard as we can, using our technique, and at the end of season we’ll see.”
The move back to defensive end has ramped the expectations back up for Jack Sawyer. He’s finally back at the position he was recruited to play. He’s more experienced, he’s faster, stronger, and more equipped than he’s ever been.
This scenario has many people looking for a breakout season for Sawyer, whose next start will be his first as a Buckeye. Larry Johnson doesn’t want to put any season-long expectations on Sawyer, especially since the message all offseason has been about the production of the unit rather than the individual. But he’s certainly seeing some reasons for excitement.
“I don’t know if you’d say breakout,” Johnson said. “I think the thing about playing Jack and playing end is it’s two different positions. Jack is a defensive end. We thought we could make that happen, but I think he’s more happy now with his hand in the ground, rushing from the end position. Jack’s done a good job of taking care of himself. He’s got his bodyweight down and he’s really kind of trim. And now he’s really, really doing some good things for us, and that’s the thing I’m excited to see.”